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Louis XVII, the boy king who never was, died in loneliness, misery and squalor

Posted in Historical articles, History, Revolution, Royalty on Friday, 29 November 2013

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This edited article about France first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

Louis XVII, picture, image, illustration

Louis XVII in the Temple

When first seized by the Revolutionaries, Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, the king’s sister, his son and daughter were imprisoned in the Temple. This was a grim mediaeval keep in Paris, built several centuries previously by the Knights Templar on their return from a Crusade.

The Royal Family of France were shut together in the bleak rooms on the third floor until the king was taken to the guillotine. Two days later his son was dragged by force from the arms of Marie Antoinette and sealed off in solitary confinement on the floor below. He was then about nine years old.

Loyal Royalist supporters, from safe places in exile abroad in foreign lands, proclaimed that the boy was now Louis XVII. They did the lad no favour. The unhappy nine year old was to rule no kingdom except one cold, dingy room with its windows barred and shuttered against the outside world. His throne was a plain wooden chair and his counsel table was of simple wood upon which he played with a few toys allowed him by his first gaoler, an ex-cobbler named Simon. His daily banquet was a dish of the coarsest food thrust in to him through a grimy window leading to an ante room. He saw no sunlight through the shuttered windows, he breathed no fresh air, and was never allowed out to stretch his young limbs on soil that was by destiny his realm.

For him there were no palace receptions, no grand balls. The only people he saw were his gaolers, who were frequently changed, and government inspectors on rare visits. These he glimpsed only vaguely in the half-light through the window in the wall above a smoky stove. Most of these men were ignorant and cruel. They spoke to him only in words of abuse, and they fed him rarely and took little notice when he became ill.

For much of his pathetic reign the king lay weakly on his bed, slowly dying from neglect, poor food and ill-health. There were bolts, bars, chains and four locked doors between him and freedom.

According to official records he died on 8th June, 1795, and with an escort of 25 armed men, two gaolers and three officials he was quietly buried in a nearby cemetery. In fact there is some mystery about his ultimate end, because many years later his body was disinterred and doctors discovered that the bones found in the small coffin were those of a youth aged between 14 and 18 years . . . and Louis was only 11.

After his death and during the reign of his uncle Louis XVIII, who actually sat upon the throne as monarch of the French after Napoleon’s defeat, there were several young men who claimed to be Louis XVII, saying that they had somehow escaped imprisonment and death. None of them proved their case!

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